This easy step-by-step tutorial can help you learn how to test and change your hot water heater elements! This DIY home maintenance task can save you money and keep your appliance running smoothly.
Replacing the heating element(s) in your water heater only requires a few tools and a little more time than it takes to flush the water heater. This important task removes sediment that has accumulated in your water heater and gives you the perfect chance to test and change any heating elements that have gone out.
Replacing heating elements in an Electric water heater isn’t nearly as difficult as you might envision. One or both of the elements may have failed and are now unable to provide you with sufficient hot water. To do this, you will have contact with the electrical wiring within the water heater. If you are not comfortable with doing so, please have a professional or someone comfortable working with electric appliances assists with this task.
Materials needed for removing and replacing your hot water heater elements:
- Hose – garden hose will work very well or a washing machine supply line
- Bucket, outdoors, or drain (a place for the water to go when drained from the tank)
- Pliers and/or screwdriver
- Multi-meter tool – This will help us determine which element is no longer functioning and needs to be replaced.
- Non-contact circuit tester – This helps us confirm that the power is no longer on and it is safe to proceed.
- Ratchet and socket
- Replacement heating element(s) – See manual for specific unit needs
- Dishwashing liquid
Step-by-step instructions for changing a hot water heater element
This task isn’t too difficult, it just takes patience and attention. Here’s a step-by-step guide for completing this smart home maintenance DIY.
1. Cut the power off to the water heater.
The electric heater will need to be cut off before the water heater is emptied. The safest way to cut off the power is to find the breaker in your electrical breaker box and switch it to the off position or remove the fuses.
2. Testing for power at the water heater.
Open the electrical junction box on top of the water heater. Using the non-contact circuit tester, check the power wires to make certain the power is off. With the device that I’m using, green indicates that the power is OFF. Red indicates that the power is ON. I know that seems backward, but I think of it as, “green means go, red means stop.” Read the instructions on any non-contact circuit tester that you use to know how it is going to let you know the status of the power.
2. Open a hot water faucet
Let the hot water run until it is no longer hot. This will prevent anyone from getting burned with hot water as the tank is being emptied. Leave the faucet open until you have finished replacing the heating element(s) and open the water supply valve.
3. Connect the hose
The water heater will have a drain valve located at the bottom of the water heater, find it and connect your hose and run the other end of the hose to a drain, outside, or into buckets.
4. Close the water supply valve
By turning off the water supply the tank will be drained of all the water within the tank.
5. Open the drain valve on the water heater
Water should begin flowing from the hose, and allow the water to run until the tank is empty. To test to make sure the tank has emptied you should be able to gently rock it by pushing lightly against it. Once the tank is empty close the drain valve and remove the hose.
6. Access panels
Remove the upper and lower access panels, fold back the insulation, and remove the plastic cover over the element and thermostat.
7. Remove power wires and test elements
With the tank drained and the power off, you can now remove the power cable from the heating elements and test the heating elements.
8. How to Test Hot Water Heater Elements
Use a multimeter to test the element and follow instructions on your tool. The element is good if it has resistance ranging between 5 and 25 Ohms. Anything outside that range will require that the element be replaced. (( add a picture of both multi-meters)).
9. Removing the heating element
You can use an element wrench or a 1 1/2-inch socket with a ratchet to remove the element. The element might not turn easily and you might need to add more leverage to your handle. A short length of pipe or a large combination wrench with the box end over the handle of the ratchet or wrench should work. Lefty loosey and constant pressure will loosen the element.
10. Check the water heater data plate
The water heaters data plate provides you with the correct wattage for each heating element to be used with your water heater. The picture below shows that the volts and watts listed on the data plate match the volts and watts of the heating element.
11. Installation of the heating elements
Use a clean rag to wipe off the threads on the tank as well as wipe down the threads on the new element. Dishwashing liquid helps to lubricate the gasket. Tighten with the wrench or socket used to remove the heating elements. “Righty tighty.”
12. Filling the tank
Close the drain valve and open the supply line. Also, make sure the faucet that you opened in Step 2 is still open. As the tank is filling check each of the elements and drain valve for leaks. If there are no leaks wait for the tank to fill.
13. Closing access panels
Once the tank has filled and there are no leaks it’s time to reconnect the power wires to the heating element. Next, reattach the plastic thermostat/element cover and fold the insulation over the plastic cover and install the access panel or panels.
14. Finishing up
Close the electrical junction box and turn the power On or install the fuses. The water heater could take up to two hours to fully heat the water within the tank.
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